Pennsylvania is alone among northeastern states in lacking a law banning anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination. But it could be the first with a lieutenant governor drawn from the LGBTQ+ community.
State Rep. Brian Sims, the gay man seeking the office, notes the irony of the situation. “It’s not lost on me in any way that I’m running to be the first out lieutenant governor in a state that doesn’t have LGBTQ equality,” he says.
Sims, the first out member of the Pennsylvania legislature (later joined by Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta), has been advocating for LGBTQ+ equality and other progressive causes during his eight years in office. But he figures he can up his advocacy from a statewide post.
A Democrat, he was the first candidate to announce a run for the lieutenant governor’s position in 2022; the office’s current occupant, Democrat John Fetterman, is leaving to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Pat Toomey.
Sims, a civil rights lawyer by trade, describes himself as a coalition-builder who’s visited every county in Pennsylvania as chair of the legislature’s Equality Caucus. His key issues, in addition to LGBTQ+ equality, include women’s rights, raising the minimum wage, and banning fracking.
As lieutenant governor, he would oversee what he calls a “reckless Senate” that tried to overturn the state’s results in the presidential election, claiming its electoral votes should go to Donald Trump instead of the real winner, Joe Biden.
Sims is no stranger to firsts. In 2000, he came out to his football teammates at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania after he, as captain of the team, had led them to the Division II championship game. He’s still the only former NCAA football captain to have come out. He’s remained close to his teammates, most of whom are still in the state and have volunteered in his campaigns, even though they’re largely Republicans. “It was one of the things that convinced me I could do this in Pennsylvania,” he says.
He isn’t the only trailblazer in Pennsylvania, though. In February, a few days after Sims announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor, Kenyatta announced that he’s going to challenge Fetterman and others in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. He’d be the first Black gay man — and first
gay man overall — in that body. The two senators elected so far from the LGBTQ+ community are both white women, lesbian Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and bisexual Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
Both Sims and Kenyatta have been endorsed by the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which works to elect out candidates to office, among numerous other endorsements. “As the first out LGBTQ person in the state legislature, Brian became a fierce and outspoken voice for equality not just for the LGBTQ community, but for all marginalized Pennsylvanians,” Victory Fund President and CEO Annise Parker said in a statement announcing the endorsement. “He remained on the frontlines despite homophobic slurs and death threats, exposing politicians opposed to equality and defending those who stood up against them. That courage is what Pennsylvanians need in a lieutenant governor…. While a statewide victory for Brian in a key swing state would be a milestone moment in LGBTQ political history, more importantly, it would be a win for all underserved communities throughout Pennsylvania.”
Of Kenyatta, she said, “We need more people of color, young people and LGBTQ people influencing the decisions that will determine our country’s future — and Malcolm can prove that even swing states will elect these next generation leaders. His story and values resonate with working families and marginalized communities too often ignored by our political system and he will excite the electorate in ways his primary opponents cannot.”
As for LGBTQ+ lieutenant governors, no state has one yet, but a U.S. territory does — Josh Tenorio, a gay man, in Guam. Politicians in two states hoped to beat Pennsylvania to the punch, but neither made it. Mark Levine, a gay man currently in the Virginia House of Delegates, sought the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor in this year’s election, but he lost the primary race in June. In Rhode Island, Lt. Gov. Daniel J. McKee moved up to governor when Gina Raimondo was confirmed as Biden’s secretary of Commerce, and Victory Fund urged McKee to appoint Donna Nesselbush, a former state senator who is lesbian, to take his place in the number 2 spot. But Sabina Matos, a straight Latina, got the nod instead.